Just for Kids (and the Young at Heart): Tracking the Timberdoodle

By George Steele

Spring is just around the cor­ner — and the tim­ber­doo­dle is about to return. Tim­ber­doo­dle, bog suck­er, mud-snipe — these are many names for the Amer­i­can wood­cock, a great bird to sneak up on. Yes, sneak up on!

The wood­cock returns to the North­east each spring. Males look for over­grown fields to do their song- and-dance rou­tine. They sing a song that sounds like a squeaky toy peent” and do a fly­ing cir­cle dance up high in the sky. All of this to show off to near­by females. Their way of say­ing Check me out, I’m so good lookin’”. (Click here for a Youtube video of the song-and-dance routine)

The cool thing about this behav­ior is that you can play a great game of hide and sneak with the show-boat­ing males. Get Mom and Dad or Gramps or Nan­na to bring you to a near­by old field just around dusk. The mowed lawn of a school­yard or park won’t do. If you can’t find a field near your house, come to the Arbore­tum. There are sev­er­al old fields here that are fine.

In the spring the fields will be wet and mud­dy. Wear dark col­ored clothes — and boots. At the edge of the field, lis­ten for the peent” song and try to fig­ure out where in the field the male is singing. After sev­er­al peents,” you’ll hear the flute-like whistling sounds as he takes flight. You might even see him sil­hou­et­ted against the dark­en­ing sky.

While the bird is fly­ing in a large cir­cle high above you, walk care­ful­ly in the direc­tion you heard him singing. No need to run. He’ll repeat his song and dance rou­tine sev­er­al times. The big trick is to stop and stay still before he starts to land. How will you know he’s start­ing to land? The flute-like flight sounds will change to a slow­er stut­ter­ing war­bling. When you hear that change, stop and stand still. If there is a clump of tall plants near­by, hide near that. If you are hid­den and stand still, the wood­cock will repeat his peent­ing” song sev­er­al times before tak­ing flight. When he does, con­tin­ue your sneak­ing up.

If you are patient, and good at sneak­ing up, you’ll be able to get a few arm lengths away from him as he returns after each flight to do his song. If you are that close, you’ll hear him gulp some air that he’ll need to sing his song, just like when you take a breath to sing yourself.

George Steele is Nature Edu­ca­tor at Lan­dis and a mem­ber of the Board of Trustees. He offers many work­shops for chil­dren and fam­i­lies with chil­dren at the Arbore­tum, all of which are list­ed in the 2019 Cal­en­dar of Events.

Spring 2019

Volume 37 , Number 1

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